YUMA PROVING GROUND, Ariz. — Informally, it’s known as the “truck rodeo,” but the Army prefers to call it the more official sounding “expedited modernization initiative procedure,” or EMIP.
With 65 vendors over the course of five days displaying their wares here among the scrub brush and cacti in the Arizona desert, the EMIP resembles a trade show, except instead of booths in a conference center, sales reps stand along the road behind rocks waiting for program managers to stop by and check out their cutting edge technologies.
“The great thing about the EMIP demos is that it provides a focused and standardized approach,” said John Mcleish, the Army’s assistant project manager for EMIP. “This process allows us to identify technologies the Army might otherwise be unaware of and potentially insert advanced technologies having military merit as quickly as possible.”
The tank-automotive and armaments command (TACOM) considers the EMIP a key part of its effort to identify and leverage industry’s investments in advanced technologies and speed them to the field.
Chris Yakes, senior project engineer at Oshkosh Truck Corp., of Oshkosh, Wis., said that for potential contractors, the EMIP is a good opportunity to display the company’s new technologies to Army program managers.
“They can see the technology operate, and they can provide feedback right away to the decision makers in the Army,” Yakes said.
About two dozen Army acquisition officials, identified by black EMIP baseball caps, make the rounds throughout the day with clipboards, stopping to hear vendors make their pitch. Even though most of the briefings take place on the side of dusty roads, portable generators are available to provide electricity for PowerPoint talks.
The “black hats,” as they’re informally known, fill out forms, check off items on their list as they listen to presentations or watch the demonstrations, compiling what they call “market research.”
The technologies can be everything from relatively low-tech new ways to hitch trailers to trucks to on-board computers and radars that autonomously steer 12-ton trucks.
TACOM is looking for previously undemonstrated technologies that can improve safety, survivability, reliability and mission readiness, and that can be available for production within six months of completing the verification process.
Some of the technologies are now available to commercial truck fleets. Many of them seek to address specific problems being encountered in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The Eaton Corp.’s VORAD collision warning system uses a high-frequency radar to alert drivers of potential crashes. When the radar detects a potential hazard, a piercing buzzer tells the driver to either slow down or apply the brakes.
Richard Youngblood, Cleveland, Ohio-based Eaton Corp.’s business development manager, said the radar could be used to prevent collisions in convoys. Drivers can become distracted, and warning them that the truck ahead is suddenly slowing down can prevent chain-reaction accidents. It can also be employed in brownout conditions during Iraq’s notorious sandstorms, he said.
The Eaton team was able to take Army officers on 10-minute demonstration rides, where a Humvee driving in front abruptly stopped, setting off the device and alerting the driver.
“You can cut through a lot of the red tape here,” said Youngbloood. “As a supplier, it can really be a daunting challenge to find the right people to talk to.”
The vendors aren’t all small hopefuls. Larry Day, program executive of Humvee manufacturer AM General, displayed some of the new features the company would like to integrate into the fleet.
Among the components was a fire suppression system for the crew and cargo compartments, longer seatbelts to accommodate soldiers with bulky body armor, and a new air conditioning system adapted for use in Iraq.
“Air conditioning in Southwest Asia is not a luxury,” Day said. “It is a necessity.” Condensers for the new system are located above the back wheel wells to allow for more space in the crew compartment.
The fire suppression system sensors can detect fire, heat or smoke.
“[Fire suppression] was not a requirement in years past, but as we’ve evolved through the lessons learned from Southwest Asia, it’s an important feature we want to provide for the soldier,” Day said.
Lt. Col. Kevin Peterson, Humvee program executive, said TACOM expedited the fire suppression system acquisition process and awarded contracts to four potential vendors based on their existing technologies. A system provided by Kidde Dual Spectrum of Goleta, Calif., was the first to be integrated into vehicles in the field. The other three systems are undergoing testing and may be chosen for integration at AM General’s South Bend, Ind., plant.
“Should there be a feature that the military wants, we can rapidly cut them into production in a very short period of time,” Day said.
TACOM was able to deploy the fire suppression units in the field within 100 days from the award of the contract. The speed of the technology’s integration was “unprecedented,” Peterson said.
Fire suppression is one of several Humvee safety upgrade initiatives, Peterson said. Others include longer and easier to unfasten safety belts, gunner restraint devices to keep soldiers from being ejected from the turret and door locks that permit quick exits.
AM General is also proposing an auxiliary 17-gallon fuel tank located below the back bumper that can give Humvees up to 170 extra miles of range. The tank is reinforced for possible collision, but remains vulnerable to roadside bombs, Day said. AM General is investigating materials that can be wrapped around fuel tanks to mitigate damage caused by explosions. The experimental material may not prevent tanks from being perforated, but it has the potential to suppress gasoline fires, he added.
“There’s very little that’s stopping the new shaped charges that are out there,” Peterson said. TACOM is working closely with the Pentagon’s Joint Improvised Explosive Device Defeat Organization to adapt the Humvee as IED technology evolves, he added.
An unheralded benefit of the EMIP, Day said, is the opportunity for some of the larger contractors participating, such as AM General, Oshkosh Truck Corp. and Stewart & Stevenson, to see what the smaller companies have to offer. “It’s a good forum for cross-pollination,” he said.
Oshkosh Truck Corp. demonstrated its TerraMax unmanned ground vehicle system, which is capable of autonomously driving a 10-wheeled palletized load system truck at speeds up to 45 mph in an off-road environment. Oshkosh has tested the kit on all the military models it manufactures, including the Marine Corps’ medium tactical replacement vehicle.
The system’s development, in partnership with Rockwell Collins of Cedar Rapids, Iowa, and the University of Parma in Italy, is in response to a congressional mandate requiring one-third of all military vehicles be unmanned by 2015, Yakes said.
“This vehicle does think for itself, sees for itself and plans for itself, and traverses terrain all by itself without any human involvement,” Yakes said. It can spot obstructions 80 meters out with six mounted cameras.
If a child is in the road, it can swerve or stop, Yakes said. “It can react faster than a human can, but it’s still an 80,000 pound vehicle,” he added. “It’s not a given that you’re not going to hit something when something jumps right in front of you.”
Civilian use technology was also featured. Fifty yards out of sight from the main road among some rubble-strewn hills, executives from the St. Paul, Minn.-based software developer, Primordial, waited under the bright desert sun.
The rough terrain afforded a perfect spot to demonstrate their Ground Guidance off-road navigation system, which generates maps for hunters, but could also be used by soldiers. The software downloaded into handheld devices can guide a platoon leader to the easier to traverse routes, rather than the direct paths, which may take them over difficult-to-negotiate hills, streams or valleys. While the units can be hand held, Primordial sees potential for mounting the units on small, all-terrain vehicles.
Along with high-profile needs, such as driver safety and autonomy, the EMIP seeks solutions to some less glamorous problems that may indirectly put soldiers in harm’s way if trucks suffer a breakdown in a hostile environment.
Among the other technologies demonstrated were:
• The OilMate oil management system, manufactured by Engineered Machined Products Inc. of Escanaba, Mich., automatically changes oil as a vehicle is in operation. The system can potentially reduce equipment failure during missions, improve engine life and decrease maintenance downtime. It also burns the used oil as fuel, eliminating storage and disposal problems.
• A quick-change battery system that slides batteries out on a tray allowing for reduced maintenance time. Also featured was a new battery prognostics diagnostics system, which can tell which of four truck batteries are failing. Currently, if one battery fails, all four are scrapped. “In hotter temperatures, batteries are going to burn out more quickly,” said James Kozlowski, research associate at the Applied Research Laboratory at Penn State University, which proposed the technology.
• A hydrogen-fuel injection system developed by the Canadian Hydrogen Energy Co. Ltd., of Bowmanville, Ont., promises 10 percent fuel savings and up to 50 percent emission reductions for heavy trucks. Using distilled water as a hydrogen source, “there are some pretty significant savings,” said Bill Boyle, the company’s business development manager. The system is in use on about 400 commercial trucks in Canada.